Welcome back to our brand new column, Dealers Choice, where food expert Ian Purkayastha clues us in on what top chefs across America are serving on freshly ironed white linen tablecloths at fancy restaurants. Food dealer to over 300 restaurants nationwide, including Sean Brock and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Ian’s smooth talking sales pitch and top shelf product list has everybody hooked on the goods he’s slinging.
This week, he’s dropping encyclopedic knowledge about placenta. Unfortunately for you sickos hoping for an article about some weirdos who eat pregnant ladies’ placentas, he’s dishing about placenta harvested straight from the briny bellies of trout and salmon mommies. If you’ve ever tasted caviar or fish roe at a sushi restaurant, this sac—yes, sac—is the motherland where all those pricey eggs come from. To be specific, this is the prime by-product of coho salmon, king salmon, steelhead trout, and rainbow trout.
Useless or Useful Information
The word placenta comes from the Latin word for “cake.” A sac containing babies definitely doesn’t taste sweet, but at least you can use this fact as your next party trick to make you seem like a creep.
The Pacific Northwest (Oregon and Washington) is the main hub for both salmon and trout harvest season. Female fish with prime placentas for plucking are typically killed in late September and right at the kickoff of basketball’s March Madness season. To be blunt, the season is insanely confusing, dictated by a yearly shift that’s projected by three parties: the feds, state government, and Native American tribal managers who convene to predict fish spawning season.
It should have a salty, briny flavor like it was plucked straight out of the ocean—not the dirty boot of a crusty sailor.
Fresh roe doesn’t have much of a nose to it, but if it does, it should give off a faintly fishy scent. Any other smell, and you should probably run for the hills.
What to Do With a Batch of It
If you get your hands on a placenta sac, you have a lot of flexibility and control over what you can do with it. You can cure the entire thing or screen it—a technical term for getting sensual by extracting the eggs from the sac in a bowl of cold water with your hands—so you can make your own caviar. One of my clients keeps the caviar eggs in a mirin/sake bath that naturally cures the eggs, but you can also serve up straight raw product.
If you’re trying to get real fancy with it, you can create homemade bottarga that will make Sardinian grandmothers who have been perfecting this craft longer than you’ve existed very, very jealous. Check out this instructional step-by-step:
-Remove the purple vein off the sac. It’s sort of like pulling the proverbial life plug; this hideous thing acts as an oxygen enricher to the eggs.
-Wash the sac thoroughly, making sure to keep it fully intact.
-Pack the whole thing in kosher or some other salt varietal, so that the entire placenta is fully encased, leaving it to dry in the open air of your refrigerator.
-Both the salt and your refrigerator fan will simultaneously work together to draw out almost all of the liquid.
-When almost all of the moisture has evaporated, you’ll be left with a dope homemade stick of bottarga. You can grate it over pasta or make it rain on almost anything, like salads, soups, and other fancy stuff.
You Oughta Know
Freezing trout or salmon roe placenta is whack. Don’t even think about it. When it starts to dethaw like Brendan Frasier in Encino Man, the membrane won’t properly separate from the eggs. When that happens, it will start to ooze bubbles, like a nasty case of passed gas, ruining the flavor altogether. It’s hard to salvage the goods if this happens, so just stick to the fresh stuff.
Salmon roe has a maroon, fruit-punch color with a large grain size, like bubble tea. Trout roe has an orangey hued tint with a much smaller grain size. They have a better pop and mouthfeel.
I’m slinging freshly plucked placenta sack from coho salmon, king salmon, steelhead trout, and rainbow trout. The product I get is so fresh, within moments after the kill, fishermen slice the belly of the trout or salmon, pluck out the sack, and send it directly to my doorstep.
The placenta sac (which is filled with roe, if you haven’t caught on) is an overlooked by-product of the fish that would otherwise get thrown into the garbage. In butcher’s terms, this is like the offal—whole animal butchery—that happens to come from a fish.
If you’ve got a great relationship with your local fishmonger—and they purvey freshly harvested wild trout or salmon, not the factory-farm-raised stuff—ask them to save the placenta sacs from the fish that they’re gutting. If it’s been chilling in the case for five days, stay away. The fresh sacs are typically discarded otherwise, and they can be acquired on the cheap unless you’ve been hustled, in which case, it sucks to be you.
The Deal Breaker
If it’s not vacuum-sealed, trout and salmon placenta keeps for approximately three days in the fridge. Anything longer, and you’re asking for trouble. If it starts to smell like vinegar, you’ll know it has “gone off.” Keep that stuff as airtight as possible when it’s in your possession. It’s pretty simple: don’t mess around—consume those balls of wonder immediately or cure accordingly.